Justin Morneau had the best year of his career stopped after a concussion in 2010. Though he's trying to come back, his career could be over.
It's not easy to see, because it happens so quickly and doesn't look like a serious injury at the time. Morneau's head appears to hit the knee of Blue Jays second baseman John McDonald. The announcers almost dismiss it as Morneau gets up, saying "he just had the wind knocked out of him."
But Morneau missed the rest of the 2010 season and when he came back in 2011, he was still suffering the aftereffects of the concussion. That, plus injuries to his neck, left wrist, left knee and right foot, made 2011 a nightmare for Morneau; he hit just .227/.285/.333 with four home runs in 69 games. Partly as a result of losing Morneau's bat, the Twins had a precipitous decline, going from AL Central champions with 94 wins in 2010 to 99 losses and last place in 2011.
Now, Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that Morneau says he's on the mend and expects to be ready to play in 2012:
"I've been pretty good since December," Morneau said. "I get headaches every once in a while, whether or not they're concussion-related, it's hard to say. I'm sure you get headaches; people get headaches every once in a while. So it's hard to pinpoint that stuff. As far as the fogginess, I haven't gotten to that point where I've overexerted myself. Everything's been built up gradually, so everything's been pretty good so far -- especially since the calendar turned to January."
The other injuries (the wrist and knee in particular) have healed, and the article also reports that Morneau has gotten in better shape through better nutrition:
He also changed his diet and lost 20 pounds as a result after undergoing a food allergy test, which detected he's sensitive to sugars, gluten and dairy.
That's all great and Morneau's optimism about being ready to play is something we've seen in many athletes who work hard and want to be on the field of play, almost at any cost. But so many athletes in many sports try to come back after concussions and fail. The Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby, who suffered a concussion last season, has played in just eight games this year as concussion symptoms continue to plague him and Corey Koskie, a fellow Canadian who was once Morneau's teammate with the Twins, suffered a concussion while playing with the Brewers in 2006. Koskie attempted a 2009 comeback and even played in the World Baseball Classic that year for Canada, as did Morneau.
Koskie then went on to Cubs spring training, but retired after playing in just three games, saying the concussion symptoms were returning. Something quite similar happened to current Cardinals manager Mike Matheny in 2007 when he tried to come back from similar concussion symptoms.
Concussions are tricky things. A professional athlete needs to be at the top of his game every day. Though Morneau clearly hopes and wishes to return and is putting in the work needed to do so, the reality for him and the Twins is that his career could be over.